Friday, July 13, 2012

2012 New Hampshire Practice Notes: Denny Hamlin Dominates Both Saturday Sessions

Hamlin fastest in all speed categories during both Saturday sessions (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

For the second straight New Hampshire practice session on Saturday, Denny Hamlin came out on top with the fastest speeds. Hamlin not only had the fastest individual lap (131.383 mph) of final practice, but he also had the fastest average speeds making him the clear favorite to win Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301 on Sunday.

Hamlin duplicated his mastery of practice from the earlier Saturday session where he bested the field in all major categories that also includes fastest 10-consecutive lap average.

Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch turned in the second fastest lap at 131.243 mph in the 60-minute session and had the top speed until the final 10-minutes.

The Gibbs duo both look like formidable opponents for the 41 other drivers considering they might already have had an advantage coming in this weekend because of past excellence on similar tracks. Hamlin won at Phoenix and Busch won Richmond earlier this season, places that require a similar set-up to New Hampshire‘s flat one-mile track.

Brad Keselowski had the third fastest lap (130.936) followed by Clint Bowyer (130.837) and Jimmie Johnson (130.743).

Johnson is a three-time New Hampshire winner, Bowyer has won twice and Keselowski was runner-up last fall. In Johnson and Keselowski’s case, they both finished in the top-10 at Richmond and Phoenix this season, two of five drivers to do so. Two of the others were, of course, Hamlin and Busch.

The other driver to do so was Mark Martin who isn’t participating this week. But the No. 55 car is still in action with Brian Vickers driving and he used the final session to claim the sixth fastest lap. In three starts this season, Vickers has taken the No. 55 to two top-5 finishes. Vickers also gained a career best finish of fifth in the fall race last season.

Martin Truex Jr. had the seventh fastest lap, his lowest placement on any speed chart this weekend between the three practices and qualifying. He could pose a major threat to Hamlin and Busch.

Kasey Kahne was eighth fastest, continuing a strong run on the weekend. Kahne also had the second fastest average speeds of the session and the third best 10-consecutive lap average. If we look back on the Phoenix race, it was Kahne who dominated the practices and looked to have the car to beat before having an issue with the wall.

While Hamlin and Busch looked to be the strongest in Saturday’s practices, we also have to consider the time in which both sessions were run. Sunday’s race will start at 1:16 pm (ET) when the temperatures will rise above 90 degrees. In both of Saturday’s sessions, they were run in the morning where temperatures were in the low-to-mid 70’s.

What we saw today may not be as relevant on race day, the same type of cautionary thought process bettors have to consider for races at Charlotte where the temperatures drastically change throughout the race. However, being fast in any climate is always a good start.

Points leader Matt Kenseth ran the most laps (55), but only had the 17th fastest time.

Other notables like Jeff Gordon finished 13th. Last fall's winner, Tony Stewart, had the 19th best time and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 21st. Junior radioed in a few times that he was not happy with his car.

The stars of the two Saturday practices look to be the Gibbs duo, the MWR cars and three-fourths of the Hendrick team. It would be surprising if one of those cars didn’t win Sunday, but we still can’t count out the Stewart-Haas duo who swept New Hampshire last season.

The big difference between Stewart and Newman this year is that both were outstanding in practices prior to the race, which isn‘t the case this weekend.

Top-5 New Hampshire Final Practice Speeds:
1) Denny Hamlin 131.383 mph
2) Kyle Busch 131.243
3) Brad Keselowski 130.936
4) Clint Bowyer 130.897
5) Jimmie Johnson 130.743

New Hampshire Final Practice Speeds

Final New Hampshire Driver Ratings Following All Practice Sessions

Hamlin Thoroughly Dominates Second Practice Session

By Micah Roberts

Denny Hamlin looks like a winner this week, just like at Phoenix (Getty) 
Denny Hamlin laid down the fastest lap Saturday morning during New Hampshire’s early practice session with a speed of 131.478 mph. Hamlin not only was fastest on individual lap times, but also fared the best over the 55-minute duration with the top average speeds, running 32 laps at an average of 130.322 mph. No other driver averaged over 130 mph during the practice.

Hamlin was also fastest among the 15 drivers that ran 10-consecutive laps.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Hamlin atop the charts in practice despite struggling with his race trim set-up early in practice on Friday. Not only does Hamlin have a New Hampshire win and a track best 9.0 average finish over his career, but he also won at Phoenix earlier this season, a track that requires a similar set-up. Richmond can be lumped into that category as well and Hamlin finished fourth in that race.

Jeff Gordon was second fastest with a lap of 131.370 mph among his 36 run in the morning session. Just like Hamlin, Gordon struggled Friday with his race set-up, but got things clicking early on Saturday. Gordon is running out of time is his quest to make the Chase and the only way he can make it is by winning races.

Gordon has had great cars all season, but the only luck he's had has been BAD. He looks to again have one of the better cars on the track and getting his fourth career New Hampshire win wouldn’t be a stretch at all. At some juncture, Lady Luck has to end her feud with Gordon.

Martin Truex Jr. had the third fastest lap (131.193) followed by Aric Almirola (131.094) and two-time New Hampshire winner Clint Bowyer (131.004) to round out the top-5 fastest speeds.

Even though Dover is closest to Truex Jr’s New Jersey home where he grew up, Truex Jr. says it’s New Hampshire’s 1-mile track that he considers home just because he raced more on the track growing up. He has a large 77-point lead over 13th-place in the standings, but a win would surely make him more comfortable.

Kasey Kahne was sixth fastest followed by Jimmie Johnson, pole-sitter Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers and four-time New Hampshire winner Jeff Burton.

Three-time New Hampshire Ryan Newman turned the most laps on the session (49) followed by Brad Keselowski (48) and Vickers (39).

The top average speeds of the session were Hamlin, Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Kahne and Truex Jr.

Top best 10-consecutive lap average speeds were run by Hamlin, Kahne, Busch, Gordon and Kenseth.

Saturday’s final practice session is scheduled for 11:20 am (ET).

Top-5 New Hampshire Practice 2 Speeds
1) Denny Hamlin 131.478 mph
2) Jeff Gordon 131.370
3) Martin Truex Jr. 131.193
4) Aric Almirola 131.094
5) Clint Bowyer 131.004

New Hampshire Practice Speeds

Kyle Busch Fastest in First Practice Session 

By Micah Roberts

Kyle Busch was fastest during Friday’s first practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301. With only a few moments remaining in the 90-minute session, Busch laid down a lap of 133.385 mph.

Kyle Busch was fastest in first practice and won the pole (Getty)
Busch won at NHMS in 2006, but has been having mediocre results the last few years on the 1-mile flat track. Busch fares very well at Richmond and Phoenix which is why he’s always one of the favorites to win on the Loudon, NH one-mile flat track.

Greg Biffle had the second-fastest lap at 133.119 mph and seeing him at the top of the charts, along with where his 2012 season is at, it's reminiscent of the last time he won in Loudon. Biffle’s only NHMS win came in the fall of 2008, one of the better years of his career when he finished third in points. Biffle’s on a similar pace this season and also currently sits third in points.

Kurt Busch was third fastest -- more on him later -- followed by Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard.

The Waltrip drivers all looked sharp with two-time NHMS winner Clint Bowyer fast early in race trim. Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers ran sixth and seventh, respectively, late in mock qualifying runs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished right behind them.

44 drivers took laps on the track with most of the top speeds coming in the final 15-minutes of practice when every driver was running in qualifying trim. Several drivers ran exclusively in race trim during the first-half. Menard was fastest for most of the early part of the session, but I didn’t get any confirmation on what type of set-up he was using.

Only two drivers, Earnhardt and Tony Stewart, ran at least 10-consecutive laps. Brad Keselowski had the fastest average speeds (only ran 12 laps) followed by Menard (ran 20 laps).

Two-time NHMS winner Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch ran a session high 31 laps followed by Jeff Gordon with 30.

Denny Hamlin was one of the favorites to win this week, but during his first few laps run in race trim, he wasn’t happy going through the corners. When he brought the car in to the garage for a few changes and then returned to the track, he radioed in that the changes had made the car worse.

Hamlin had run 16 laps up until that point, and then the No. 11 team decided to switch over to qualifying trim for the final 45-minute stretch. Things eventually got better as they finished with the ninth-fastest lap in six attempts. They’ll have two final sessions Saturday to get their race set-up all figured out.

Jeff Gordon was another driver who complained about his car. The three-time New Hampshire winner ran a lot of early laps in race trim and then finished with the 11th-fastest lap.

Sam Hornish came in with the 21st-fastest lap of the session. The No. 22 team, which has been fast for AJ Allmendinger all season, decided to use the entire session attempting qualifying runs. It will be interesting to see how Hornish fares this week as a replacement. He last raced a Cup car at NHMS in 2010 and finished 10th. His best run came in 2009 with eighth-place.

Remember, Kurt Busch won with Penske and finished sixth or better in five of his last eight NHMS starts. Brad Keselowski was runner-up in the fall race last season and looks to be good this week.

It would be fair to say that Allmendinger hasn’t performed to the level one might expect from a car that looks so competitive in practice. Maybe it’s not the car underperforming all season, but rather the driver.

We’ll find out more about the No. 22 in race trim Saturday and then on race day, but I do expect Hornish to fare very well, maybe even compete for a top-five finish.

If Hornish does well, Allmendinger’s bigger problem could be getting his ride back, even if his test “B” results vindicate him somehow. Hornish could be auditioning and race himself right into a 2013 ride with Penske, one of the more sought after cars among several free-agents-to-be.

As for Kurt Busch, he's auditioning for a top ride too and has a lot on the line with each ensuing performance. There's no question that he's probably the best driver available for next season, but who will take a chance on all his other off-the-track issues.

New Hampshire is a good track for Kurt Busch with three wins over his career.

Saturday's final two practices will be the most pivotal in deciding who wins on Sunday.

Top-5 New Hampshire Practice Speeds:
1) Kyle Busch 133.385
2) Greg Biffle 133.119
3) Kurt Busch 133.086
4) Kasey Kahne 132.966
5) Paul Meanrd 132.822

New Hampshire Practice 1 Speeds Practice Averages

Starting Lineup: Kyle Busch on Pole

Driver Quotes - Post-Qualifying

KYLE BUSCH QUALIFIED 1ST: “These guys did such a great job today. We unloaded with a really, really good race car. The Interstate Batteries Camry was fast. We just had to back-up our practice time from earlier today and we were able to do that, but better it just a little bit — enough to put us back on the pole. Just an awesome job by all these guys — Dave Rogers (crew chief) and everyone has been working hard over the winter trying to figure out what we needed at these flatter, shorter tracks like this here at Loudon — we struggle here. So far, so good — feel like it’s a pretty good race car too. We’ll fine tune on her more tomorrow.”

GREG BIFFLE QUALIFIED 11TH: “We had a really good car, but just ended up a little tight right there. My second lap was really good. I just got tight off of four and I didn’t want to lift because I knew it would be the top of the board most likely, and I just ran out of real estate. I had to go for it because I knew a .66 wasn’t good enough, so I just murdered one and two on the second lap and got into three and four good, it just got tight on exit. I thought I was gonna make it. It was close.”

MATT KENSETH QUALIFIED 22ND: “That was probably our worst lap of the day, but it hasn’t been going very well. This place has always been a struggle for us, especially in qualifying, so we’ll just get through today and start working on it tomorrow.”

KASEY KAHNE QUALIFIED 2nd: “It was really good the car felt great. It felt great in practice today and it was just a little edgy getting into the corner. I tried to get a little more my second lap and about spun it into (turn) three so I had to just pull it in the pits. I didn’t get a second lap, but I felt like it was close to my first lap. It probably wouldn’t have beaten it, but it would have been pretty similar. Our Farmers Insurance Chevy feels good I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON QUALIFIED 7th: “Strong lap, it was a little hairy there trying to get out to pit road on time so that always gets the blood pressureup. The car drove real nice had a great lap, gave up a little time in (turns) three and four a little driver error over there. The car was still good enough to get us a top five for now hopefully we can stay there.”

DALE EARNHARDT JR. QUALIFIED 9th: “Our car was a little bit too tight. We erred on the side of being conservative as far as making sure the rear had enough grip. Traditionally this track gets really slick in qualifying. That probably helped us actually put together a decent lap and it’s going to give us a good starting spot, but we could have been a little better if we weren’t quite as tight as we were.”

KEVIN HARVICK QUALIFIED 12th: “We were just a little bit too loose up off the corner, but all in all it was faster than we ran in practice so that is always a good thing here.”

Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. For more Roberts insights and post-practice analysis on the race, go to or follow on Twitter: MicahRoberts7. 

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